Scandinavian school systems could offer the solution to reforming primary education and ensuring that pupils are happy and resilient, Labour believes.
Shadow education secretary Angela Rayner revealed her thinking at the National Association of Head Teachers conference in Liverpool today.
Asked how Labour would reform primary school accountability, Ms Rayner said: “I have been looking to Scandinavia and looking at what they do there and the work around making sure we build resilient children that are happy and strong in their own beliefs and who they are.
“I am really concerned about where we are currently going in the current system.”
She then implied that the government and its schools minister were currently too focused on phonics.
“We play Nick Gibb bingo on the front bench and that’s where whenever he mentions synthetic phonics we shout ‘bingo!’,” Ms Rayner said.
“I really am concerned about the testing regime in primary and in early years. We know through international standards and evidence that that is not always the best way forward.
“The current system isn’t fit for purpose it isn’t delivering what we want for our young people. So we need to change that.
"I want a focus and an emphasis in the early years to make sure we look at child development and look at building children to be resilient.”
Ms Rayner suggested “international standards” had pointed her towards Scandinavia, but did not specify which countries were inspiring her.
Finland, is not strictly in Scandinavia, but has won international fame for not testing pupils and achieving high positions in the programme for international student assessment (PISA).
It also starts formal schooling later than the UK at the age of seven. Sweden has the same starting age, while Denmark and Norway begin primary schooling at the age of six.
Sweden is famous for its free schools programme, which inspired the Conservative policy of the same name in England.
Ms Rayner won two standing ovations from heads for a speech that was light on any new policy detail but heavily critical of government.
“For the last few years you have had a government that has ignored you," she said. "They have pursued ideological chaos and failed to pay attention to the fall out.
“They have missed their own teacher recruitment targets five years in a row. For the second year running more teachers are leaving rather than joining the profession and half a million children are now in super-sized classes and tragically - a rise in poverty among school children.
“They wouldn’t survive their own Ofsted inspection.”